Getting Smuggled Into Somaliland

It really felt like we were being smuggled into a country territory that is deeply misunderstood by the entire world.  We left Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, at a shockingly good time (at 5.28, roughly 2 minutes before we had to leave at 5.30).  What was even funnier is the advertisement on the bus that said “Young Man Bus, German Technology, Chinese Price” which sounds about right in this part of the world.

It was a refreshing change of pace after getting used to the wonderful delays with African transportation.  Even when I flew from Madagascar I was able to win a bet because I was the only one that knew that we weren’t leaving on time.  A 6 hour layover turned into a 2 layover because the plane was “surprisingly” late.

Luckily, Kenya Airways was nice enough to give us sandwiches, a bread sandwich to be exact.

Ethiopian Customs Somaliland

Yes that’s right.. this is the customs at the border

We arrived at the bus station, better known as the side of the road, in Jijiga, Ethiopia at roughly 4pm.  I was able to find the best hotel in the city through a contact for the expensive price of $20 a room.  Being a Muslim hotel, we were informed of their #1 rule, a marriage certificate is required for couples staying in the same room.  I was fortunately traveling with another straight man so the only documentation we had to provide were our passports.  I wonder if the same rule would have applied if we told them we were actually gay and happened to be partners.

Who doesn’t love Cher anyway?

After we befriended some locals and ate at a local restaurant we laid on our beds at the Hamdu hotel which felt like the floor of a wrestling ring.  The mattresses were stiffer than the day after bread in Europe.  For those of you that haven’t been to Europe, bread is made fresh daily and if you don’t eat it the same day it turns into a rock due to the lack of preservatives.

We were eating at the hotel restaurant when it happened.  The man sitting across from us was clearly Somali by the looks of the bottom part of his goatee.  He corrected us when we tried to order a Coke and say thank you and as the conversation continued he invited us to his table.

Somaliland Customs, Somaliland Customs office

The Somaliland Customs office

Later we realized we were talking to the personal advisor to the Somaliland president and one of the men that engineered the Somaliland revolution.  We spoke for roughly 20 minutes before being thrown out of the restaurant.  I tried to pay for the meal but they informed us it was already paid for by the man with the awesome beard.

After meeting a few Somali’s Somalilanders, I have started to realize that they are as polite and inviting as Colombians, Israelis, and Zambians.  After waking up the next day we were very excited to encounter our adventure crossing into no man’s land.  The self declared state of Somaliland isn’t recognized by anyone in the world but many countries are ready to recognize the new state IsraelKenyaEthiopia have all stated this publicly).

We found a small cafe in the hotel compound and sat down to have some of the best coffee in the world.  Ironically, the same Somalilander man that we met the night before walks up to the cafe.

Somaliland License

Somaliland License

We invite him to sit with us and insist on buying his coffee since he paid for our dinner the night before.  We have a great conversation with him and he writes down some Somali Arabic phrases for us to remember.  As the conversation continued he invited us to ride with him.  Since the cars were full we rode in the very back of the 4×4, after making a nice castle of luggage we eventually felt like we were being smuggled in to the country.

We passed 3 checkpoints before arriving to the Ethiopian border and the faces of the security personnel were priceless.  It’s as if they expected to see us sitting in the front of vehicle and everyone else in the back.  It was a great experience that would lead into one of many unique experiences in the territory of Somaliland.  After we were dropped off we looked at each other and said, “we were just smuggled into the country by the president’s personal advisor”, what a great way to start the trip.


  1. A-m-a-z-i-n-g story, Marcello…your adventures and “screenplay-worthy” storytelling continue to impress. Wish I could have experienced the “awesome beard” and the “best coffee in the world.” ~ Adam Dudley

  2. Nice story hehe, what an adventure in a country not many people talk about (in a good way). I hope to see some more photos very soon 🙂

    Greetings, Marcello!

  3. As a somalilander I believe that Somaliland is more better than many internationally recognized countries in the world wide, when it comes to humanity we respect every body comes or visits our country what ever he is, we are very humble polite and respectful to every visitor and not treat him like a forgoiner what ever he is.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more.. I found the graciousness of somalilanders to be exquisite. There are some skeletons in the closet as well since we did visit a refugee camp in Hargeisa but overall we loved our time there

      1. The refugee camp is for the southern somalia who were lucky to run away from the civil war chaos and al shabab fighting in somalia and were allowed to stay in somaliland. However more and more are arriving and Puntland funnily enough apparently deports them so its up to somaliland to keep them safe and in these camps.

        What more could we do friend?

      2. Something fishy, the only reason why we treat those people as refugees is because they are from somalia, and as you’ve seen somaliland and somalia are two different countries now in every and each aspect, just like two Arab countries, for instance Egypt and Sudan, we give them all the rights and services underlined by the united nations, and one day when we get our recognition, we’ll do whatever it takes to educate and help our Somali brothers, finally may i recommend you if you go back there to visit Laas Geel caves (north-east Hargeisa) to see the oldest paintings in Africa dating back to 10,000 yrs B.C  🙂

  4. Actually, there is open trade between Somali region in Ethiopia and Somaliland. Many of our people lived in what is known as Ethiopia, so it is unfair to place too many checks since it can mean life and death to traders if they are late to market by few minutes.

    They only check Khat traders who ofcos have lots of money 🙂 and are made to contribute to society with $$$

    1. You know its funny because I found the police checks to be a complete joke… many times they didn’t really check anything as long as they know the driver. I think its more of a habit than actual security

  5. Excellent  place to be Somaliland is extremely peaceful place. I love somaliland people they are very friendly and Im glad you have visited somaliland

  6. that is amazing! i love the random people you meet while traveling and the random bouts of awesomeness you can have from these chance encounters.  I cant wait to read more on somaliland!

    1. this happened literally every other time that I turned around in somaliland.. they are very gracious people and since no one is working they all have time to personally make sure you get to where you are going! lol

  7. I was in Somaliland about a decade ago, when most of Somaliland cities and towns were erased to the ground. Now its nice to see the pictures of so many modern buildings in Hargeisa. Like you I have equally enjoyed the welcoming generosities of the Somaliland people. At one point, I by mistake crossed the border to Somalia in a region known as Puntland and I almost got killed by abusive crowd that did not like to see a white man coming to their country.

    Thanks Marcello.


  8. I didn’t notice you had another post sorry yes so you went to somaliland already can you please do more posts on it you speak with a clear and very good mindset and its very interesting to understand how life is there as I don’t live there. So its wonderful to see your words. Please write more or tell me about what you think can be improved etc and the good aspect

  9. Please be nice to Somalilander people, truly they are very nice and loving people, that is why they able to develop one of the most peaceful and stable country in subsahara Africa under enormous pressure from so many hostile directions and succeed over it to this date despite unrecognized. In your writing I noticed that you are very open minded person and has encountered many different world cultures. The funny thing about Somaliland is its people and that is our tourist attraction.
    Kudos for you, you will remember Somaliland for a very long. I assure you that. 🙂

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